I hope I do not have the devil to pay for this
I should not do this. I have a feeling that it will get me into big trouble. All I can say is buy Raymond Carver’s collected poems, All of Us, and read the whole thing.
The season turning. Memory flaring.
Three of us that fall. Young hoodlums—
shoplifters, stealers of hubcaps
Bozos. Dick Miller, dead now.
Lyle Rousseau, son of the Ford dealer.
And I, who had just made a girl pregnant.
Hunting late into the golden afternoon
for grouse. Following deer paths,
pushing through undergrowth, stepping over
blow-downs. Reaching out for something to hold onto.
At the top of Wenas Ridge
we walked out of the pine trees and could see
down deep ravines, where the wind roared, to the river.
More alive then, I thought, than I’d ever be.
But my whole life, in switchbacks, ahead of me.
Hawks, deer, coons, we looked at and let go.
Killed six grouse and should have stopped.
Didn’t, though we had limits.
Lyle and I climbing fifty feet or so
above Dick Miller. Who screamed—“Yaaaah!”
Then swore and swore. Legs numbing as I saw what.
That fat, dark snake rising up. Beginning to sing.
And how it sang! A timber rattler thick as my wrist.
It’d struck at Miller, but missed. No other way
to say it—he was paralyzed. Could scream, and swear,
not shoot. Then the snake lowered itself from sight
and went in under the rocks. We understood
we’d have to get down. In the same way we’d got up.
Blindly crawling through brush, stepping over blow-downs,
pushing into undergrowth. Shadows falling from trees now
onto flat rocks that held the day’s heat. And snakes.
My heart stopped, and then started again.
My hair stood on end. This was the moment
my life had prepared me for. And I wasn’t ready.
We stared down anyway. Jesus, please help me
out of this, I prayed. I’ll believe in you again
and honor you always. But Jesus was crowded out
of my head by the vision of the rearing snake.
That singing. Keep believing in me, snake said,
for I will return. I made an obscure, criminal pact
that day. Praying to Jesus in one breath.
To snake in the other. Snake finally more real
to me. The memory of that day
like a blow to the calf now.
I got out, didn’t I? But something happened.
I married the girl I loved, yet poisoned her life.
Lies began to coil in my heart and call it home.
Got used to darkness and its crooked ways.
Since then I’ve always feared rattlesnakes.
Been ambivalent about Jesus.
But someone, something’s responsible for this.
Now, as then.
Wenas Ridge, from All of Us, Raymond Carver